As the old mantra goes ‘a week is a long time in politics’. Well after the two weeks following the Brexit referendum, I feel the old mantra should be revised to five minutes is a long time in Westminster. So far we’ve had Gove stab Boris in the back, Corbyn stabbed in the front following a vote of no confidence and a leadership challenge and now we’ve had Andrea Leadsom graciously deciding to fall backwards onto her own sword following a careless interview with The Times at the weekend.
The result of all this chaos which sad political geeks like myself have been trying to keep up with is the almost certain coronation of Theresa May as the new Prime Minister of our green and pleasant land. Indeed, many politicos in Westminster almost certainly believe Mrs May will be handed the keys to 10 Downing Street by the end of the week, not on September 9th like we all thought this morning.
However, in no less than an hour since Mrs Leadsom decided to withdraw from the Conservative leadership race thus paving the way for Mrs May to pick up the keys for her new shiny Georgian-era Central London residence, a new threat emerged. Calls for a snap general election from the opposition parties included the leader of my own party, Tim Farron of the Liberal Democrats.
Now I can understand the logic behind this; Mrs May was not leader when the Conservative party was elected with a slim majority just over a year ago. The leader then was Mr Cameron, who is now presumably looking forward to a nice relaxing break – probably somewhere in Europe, if they will let him in. Cameron is who we elected but now 199 Conservative MPs have chosen a new leader, and consequently a new Prime Minister. Therefore in the interests of democracy we must have a snap general election now!
However, I believe this sort of rash decision is not necessary. This country has a parliamentary democracy in which the prime minister is chosen from the largest party in parliament. Our legislature and executive are intrinsically linked, with the executive drawn from the members of the legislature. As power is not separate like in the United States, with the President elected separately, in theory all that needs to happen is the new Prime Minister needs to be a member of the governing party.
At the moment that is what’s happening. Theresa May is a respected parliamentarian, the longest serving Home Secretary in a century and she is part of the ruling party. Under our political system, which has evolved over centuries, this is the process when a leader resigns. Since 1945, 5 out of the last 10 prime ministers have been selected by MPs, without general elections being called. Macmillan, Douglas-Home, Callaghan, Major and Brown were all selected following resignations without snap elections being called.
The demand for a new general election seems to represent a worrying trend in which the traditions of government, which have served this nation well in the past, are uprooted without being properly thought through. We cannot bend our democracy to the will of a small section of twitter activists who have spotted a perceived injustice without any reference to our constitutional history or the real world.
Furthermore given the enormous political upheaval of the past few weeks, stability is what is needed, not a knee-jerk general election. Over the past few weeks, because of the lack of a plan for Brexit, financial markets as well as politics have been in chaos. The pound down nearly 14 per cent, it has slightly rebounded following Leadsom’s departure from the Tory leadership race and investment is slowing in key drivers of the economy. What the country needs now is leadership and stability, not a general election which will create further instability in an already turbulent financial and political climate. This does not mean we call off elections when the going gets tough, but that calm heads are needed to deal with the fallout of Brexit.
Which brings me back to my newly created post-Brexit mantra of ‘five minutes’. Currently even if we wanted a general election in the next few months we couldn’t have one. The Tories are currently in relationship counselling trying to rebuild a shattered marriage following Brexit, which Aunty Theresa is tasked with. The Labour party are imploding on such a scale that 80 per cent of their parliamentarians cannot support the leader, but are likely to be held hostage by momentum and the membership. My own party, the Liberal Democrats are slowly starting to recover from our bruising defeat in 2015, and with the best will in the world our 8 MPs couldn’t form a government. At present we, as a nation, do not have a stable enough political situation to have a general election.
We have no effective opposition, and the country is still divided over Brexit. The public needs calm now not more politics. Although I do not like Mrs May’s ideas, particularly Snooper’s charter and her immigration reforms, we need to settle the financial and political situation before we can even contemplate an election in the next few months.